The word heart appears in William Shakespeare’s canon around 1,400 times. A record-breaking 58 instances occur in King Lear. That’s more than either Romeo and Juliet or all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
King Lear rarely references the organ literally. Characters are empty-hearted, true-hearted, honest-hearted, marble-hearted, dog-hearted, heart-struck, or even a sweet-heart.
Director Jeremy Fiebig is as well-versed in Shakespeare as anyone you are likely to meet. It is no accident that his design team has brought King Lear’s literal heart to the forefront of this production.
This show, co-produced by Honest Pint Theatre Company and Fiebig’s Sweet Tea Shakespeare, uses color coordination to clarify the separate camps of the king’s three daughters. Each is also assigned an emblem very clearly summarizing her personality. Cordelia, being the “truest” of the daughters, is represented by an illustrated heart, flowers emerging from the arteries and valves.
Each of King Lear’s furious tirades is accompanied by a drumbeat. As with the cello from Jaws, we quickly become conditioned to know when Lear’s anger is about to burst forth. An observant audience member is already connecting the dots that will lead us to the play’s final moments.
As he did with last season’s Hamlet Uncut, Jeremy Fiebig methodically lays out such a series of dots and leaves the audience to connect them. But just when you think you’ve got things all lined up, Fiebig drops in some jarring choices like the Act III thunderstorm or even a twist ending. Moreover, King Lear is staged much more effectively for a three-sided audience than Hamlet Uncut was.
The heart theme is presented in a symbolic sense by the production’s setting: a backyard family supper. The scenic team of Jeremy Fiebig, Meredith Riggin, and Barry Jaked use mason jars, spindly trees, heavy wooden furniture, and a wall of planks reminiscent of a country barn — all atop a bright green lawn. Medina Demeter’s wooden and metal props enhance the rural flavor.
Laura J. Parker’s splendid costumes clarify family relationships, delineate characters, and often echo the late 19th century without being hamfisted. The patchwork quality of the Fool’s garments was particularly compelling.
As our story begins, lighting designer Aaron Alderman paints with the gold, pink, and indigo hues of a summer afternoon. But they soon turn colder and darker as the characters do. Even with the modest lighting grid at William Peace University’s Leggett Theater, Alderman makes location and time of day extremely clear with the slightest shift of direction and color. The set’s wooden planks provide an ideal canvas for these colors. He also allows for darkness — some scenes lit by little more than a few lanterns and the occasional flash of lightning.
It has been a decade since King Lear has been presented in the Triangle, possibly because it’s just too hard to find a suitable lead. Simon Kaplan met my very high expectations for his interpretation — finding the nuances in the path toward delirium.
Kaplan portrays the strong, narcissistic king with terrific ease, and very gradually drops hints of mental fogginess that we see in elderly loved ones. His raving in the wilderness is not shocking, for we have seen him slipping away from us line by line. Kaplan is the perfect Lear: intimidating, enigmatic, and ultimately sympathetic.
As the Fool, Samantha Corey finds perfect balance of smartassery and tomfoolery as she speaks truth to power. Tohry Petty is a forceful and venomous Goneril; Jennifer Pommerenke is an earnest and resilient Cordelia; and Kaley Morrison is a sweet but backstabbing Regan, though her delivery is often rushed.
Honest Pint co-artistic director David Henderson is captivating as Edmund. He proves that a villain gets much farther on wry charm than on mustache-twirling. Aaron Alderman is a fearless Edgar, switching sharply from a loving son to the crazed “Poor Tom” persona and back again. Both actors prove capable swordsmen, executing the lighting-fast fight choreography of Jennifer Pommerenke.
Wade Newhouse plays the well-meaning Earl of Kent with sensitivity and honor, without becoming pitiful. Evan Bridestone finds the nobility and sadness of the Earl of Gloucester, but under-reacts to the violence visited upon him. Allan Maule is a passionate Duke of Albany, and Gus Allen brings much levity to the proceedings with a splendidly foppish Oswald. Jeremy Fiebig is an understated, surly Duke of Cornwall; Jessica Osnoe is convincing as the strapping Duke of Burgundy; and Medina Demeter bounces easily between a half-dozen characters.
As with last season’s Hamlet Uncut, the cast makes merry with musical performances throughout the evening. Arrive 45 minutes before the curtain to enjoy some immersive preshow revelry.
Aaron Alderman’s formidable voice blends nicely with his own banjo and guitar work, as well as the nimble strumming of George Jack and music director Jacob French. The rest of the company play various instruments, and sing and dance along with a number of bittersweet (or just plain bitter) folksy tunes. Some minimalist piano scoring adds much tension to the play.
With cohesive design, an expert cast, and exciting and unique direction, this King Lear is one of the finest Triangle productions of the last few seasons and an impressive feather in the caps of both Honest Pint Theatre Company and Sweet Tea Shakespeare.
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 9th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Roy C. Dicks: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8609; Sept. 6th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/king-lear/Event?oid=7891348; and Sept. 1st Raleigh, NC Raleigh Magazine preview by Jane Porter: http://raleighmag.com/2017/09/every-ounce-king/. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Sept. 12th Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/09/a-stellar-cast-gives-a-tour-de-force-performance-in-shakespeares-epic-tragedy-king-lear/.)
Honest Pint Theatre Company and Sweet Tea Shakespeare present KING LEAR at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 15 and 16, 2 p.m. Sept. 17, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22 and 23, and 2 p.m. Sept. 24 in Leggett Theater in Main Building, 15 E. Peace St. Raleigh, North Carolina 27604, on the campus of William Peace University; and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28-30 in J.W. Seabrook Auditorium, 1200 Murchison Rd., Fayetteville, North Carolina 28301, on the campus of Fayetteville State University.
Fayetteville: $15 ($8 students and children 6-12 years old and $13 seniors and active-duty military personnel), except children under 5 are free.
SHOW: https://www.honestpinttheatre.org/king-lear, Raleigh: https://www.facebook.com/events/1869337450052964/, and Fayetteville: http://www.sweetteashakespeare.com/event/king-lear/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/302399640237743/.
NEWS RELEASE: https://www.honestpinttheatre.org/news.
Honest Pint Theatre Company: https://www.honestpinttheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/honestpinttheatrecompany/, and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9jvpkyjZ1mzZGy1t3BV8mQ.
Sweet Tea Shakespeare: http://www.sweetteashakespeare.com/, https://www.facebook.com/sweetteashakes/, http://twitter.com/sweetteashakes and https://www.youtube.com/user/SweetTeaShakespeare.
Leggett Theater (Raleigh): https://honest-pint-theatre-company.ticketleap.com/king-lear/get-there/ (directions: http://www.peace.edu/about/locations-directions/).
J.W. Seabrook Auditorium (Fayetteville): http://www.uncfsu.edu/seabrook (directions: ).
NOTE: There will be a What You Will Preshow 45 minutes prior to curtain.
King Lear (c. 1605 or 1606 tragedy): https://www.britannica.com/topic/King-Lear (Encyclopædia Britannica) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Lear (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/ (1623 First Folio Edition, courtesy The University of Virginia in Charlottesville).
Study Guide: https://www.bard.org/study-guides/king-lear-study-guide (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
William Shakespeare (English playwright and poet, 1564-1616):
https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-Shakespeare (Encyclopædia Britannica) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare (Wikipedia).
Jeremy Ray Fiebig (director and associate professor of Theatre at Fayetteville State University): http://www.jeremyfiebig.com/ (official website), http://www.uncfsu.edu/arts/faculty-and-staff/jeremy-fiebig (FSU bio), and http://facebook.com/jeremyfiebig (Facebook page).
Dustin K. Britt, a Triangle native, is an actor and director. He holds an M.A.Ed. in Special Education from East Carolina University and teaches locally. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment. You can find him on Facebook as Dustin K. Britt and via his movie blog Hold the Popcorn.